Listening to Silence
Lessons From My Dogs
Listening to Silence
“Lots of people talk to animals…Not very many listen, though…That’s the problem.”-Benjamin Hoff, The Tao of Pooh
I think one of the greatest virtues animals teach us is the art of being silent. So often we speak when really there’s no need. We listen and defend or listen and offer opinions, instead of listening to understand. Two mornings ago as the first light was spreading over the mountain tops and in through my kitchen window, I poured hot water over my Yogi teabag and read the little saying on the end. “When we practice listening, we become intuitive.” Intuition is not something that only psychics or meditaters have; we all have it. It helps, however, to silence our minds and listen to what our hearts are feeling—in this way we lay fertile ground for intuition.
I’ve heard it said that the difference between an extrovert and an introvert is not that one is gregarious and jolly and the other quiet and shy, but rather an extrovert derives his or her energy from being around people, while an introvert charges the same batteries from quiet time. Silence.
We need not be alone, however, to be silent, for shared silence is a wonderful feeling. When we can simply be with the other person (or animal) we love and feel comfort without the need to speak, we find fullness.
Often I don’t realize how much I need this silence until it falls upon me. I cease the activity in which I was just engaged and stand without moving or speaking and at once feel quiet joy and a sense of replenishment and peace. In these instances it’s not a conscious meditation, it just happens as if something gently coaxes me to stop and Be. And often the activity that needs quieting is that of the mind not the body for paradoxically the mind will still when the body is engaged in passion driven activities such as writing or painting or gardening or sports…or even mowing the grass.
Animals understand the importance of silence and fill their lives with it much more than we humans who, often striving to alleviate the silence with anything from TV to phone to videos to our own restless thoughts, don’t see the vital need for silent space. From silence comes the creative spark. From silence comes the touch of something greater than ourselves. In silence we are maybe more ourselves than any other time.
Silence, paradoxically, is not empty; there is a fullness to it. I often find more (power, joy, freedom, creativity) in silence than I do in the company of talking people. In silence I begin to hear, but it’s a whole other language, one I have difficulty verbalizing because, not of written or spoken words, it can only be articulated by more silence (whence it is felt). The ancients spoke of heart speak, what we today call telepathy, and perhaps all beings do this from rocks to trees to animals to certain tribes of humans. In order to truly hear like this, be it the thoughts and concerns of animals or the whisper of a pine, we need just quiet ourselves—not only our lips and mouths, but our minds.
I spend a lot of time in silence, quieting my thoughts and being in the moment. One of my greatest joys in life is walking with my three dogs and merely observing their love of the outdoors, their joy of life, my own love mirroring theirs.
I do believe that “Silence is golden,” for I have experienced countless golden moments of silence. Moments turned gold not by the softness of an afternoon, nor the joy of my dogs, nor even the golden leaves of the poplars. But rather by a moment so still and pure it becomes vast: rich and full of life, yet timeless, for the moment carries easy, weightless space about it. Time may well be speeding up, but in such moments peace pervades and time is eternal.
There is a magical field where we walk and in this field, protected on all sides by ancient mountains, stands one lone wild persimmon tree. It stands skeletal upon the hill, its branches arched downward, a perfect Halloween tree. Flash and Chance and Sasha run ahead all perky knowing we are headed to eat the sweet, butterscotch-tasting flesh of the wild persimmons.
I let them taste the persimmon but after Chance became overzealous and swallowed some seeds ending up in the hospital, one or two (and no pits) is now the limit. I pull them away and we turn and walk down to the graveyard. I watch the girls hunt in the low coverts while Flash sticks his head in an old paint can searching for mice.
And in silence I stand. I have columns to write, a manuscript to edit, pages to proof, but I don’t call to the dogs, hustling them home. I stand and listen; a confused rooster crows, and my reward for silence is to hear the trees answering my unvoiced thoughts as the wind moves through their leaves pushing a few earthward to become dirt and begin the cycle again.
Finally, I call to Chance and Sasha. They come to me and we walk back to Flash in the can, and then home…happy and at peace.
From Beryl Markham’s West With the Night:
There are all kinds of silence and each of them means a different thing. There
is the silence that comes with morning in a forest, and this is different from the
silence of a sleeping city. There is the silence after a rainstorm, and before a
rainstorm, and these are not the same. There is the silence of emptiness, the
silence of fear, the silence of doubt. There is a certain silence that can emanate
from a lifeless object as from a chair lately used, or from a piano with old dust
upon its keys, or from anything that has answered to the need of a man, for
pleasure or for work. This kind of silence can speak. Its voice may be melancholy,
but it is not always so; for the chair may have been left by a laughing child or the
last notes of the piano may have been raucous and gay. Whatever the mood of the
circumstance, the essence of its quality may linger in the silence that follows.
It is a soundless echo.
Kay Pfaltz is a writer and animal activist. Visit her website at www.kaypfaltz.com to order copies of Lauren’s Story: An American Dog in Paris, the true story of a sick and abandoned beagle whose zest for life triumphs throughout adversary. Kay donates 100% of profits to animal organizations.